EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF FOOTBALL OPERATIONS & GENERAL MANAGER RICK SMITH
Talk about this offseason and some of the big choices you have to make.
“We do have some choices. I think that is a question that gives me an opportunity to really applaud the efforts of Chris Olsen, our VP of Football Administration. Chris has done an outstanding job of managing our salary cap and negotiating with our players’ agents and those kinds of things. We have some flexibility with the way that we managed our cap. It is not exactly where we want it to be. I think we have to continue to exercise discipline in that way, so that we can continue to be in a healthy state, salary cap-wise. The way that you structure contracts help you in that and that is where Chris has done an outstanding job for us.”
Will Texans S Rahim Moore find a role on the team next year?
“It was obviously a disappointing season for him. We weren’t executing on defense the way that we wanted to. We made some changes, one of which was at the safety position and we started to play a lot better. A lot of that, his inactiveness, was a result of the fact that we were playing well and the guys that had opportunities made the most of those opportunities. Disappointing for him, I am sure, but we will figure it out. The one thing that we are doing now, Bill (O’Brien) just talked about processes, so there is all of these things that we do at the end of the year to get ready for the next year. The first of which is to evaluate our football team. So we have spent some time doing that with our coaches and our scouts to assess where exactly we are because it gives us a chance to have some direction going into free agency, going into the draft. He has obviously been a part of those conversations and he’s just got to make the most of his opportunities when they come.”
How do you evaluate a spread quarterback as opposed to a pro-style quarterback when you consider bringing one in?
“We are in a predictive business, so we are trying to predict. A lot of times you look - maybe the best predictor for future performance is the pass, so obviously if you have a quarterback who comes from a pro-style system, who has taken a snap, who has taken a drop, who has read a defense, who has handed the ball off and done all those things and executed all of those mechanics on a regular basis. I think you can better predict how he will perform in a pro-style offense because you have some history in terms of what he has done before. You have to project that a little bit more when you deal with the spread offense quarterbacks. That’s not to say that they are not capable of doing it. Obviously, you have tons of examples that they can. I just think that it gives you more of an opportunity to predict how the guy is going to perform if he has done it before.”
How much does it help to have a guy like Head Coach Bill O’Brien in helping these quarterbacks adjust to a new style?
“That position, obviously, is the most important position. To the degree that you can have a coach like Bill (O’Brien) that understands the quarterback position, that can get the most out of the quarterbacks, who is flexible and has the ability to maximize the guy’s talent. I think that is one of the things that I have been really, really impressed with Bill is that we have played with a bunch of quarterbacks. We have had some measure of success with a bunch of different ones and one of the main reasons is his ability to identify, he and George (Godsey) can identify what the guy can do well, what works in the system that we are running and can adjust those things, adjust those skill sets and those calls and how we are putting things together to maximize their opportunities.”
How important is G Brandon Brooks to the team going forward?
“I think if you look at our football team and the way that we have built our team, I think that you will see that we try to do an exhaustive job in the draft prep and we try to draft and when we do we try to keep our players. I think you can look through the balance of our roster and see that our good, young football players are guys that we try to extend and certainly Brandon is one of those guys and is a key cog in our offensive line and we would love to have him back.”
Are you worried that Owner Bob McNair’s comments about drafting a quarterback might box you into a certain draft position?
“I would say this about that, one of the best things about working for Bob McNair is that he has hired us to do a job. He hired me to be his football executive and he has hired Bill (O’Brien) to be his head coach. He allows us to do our jobs. Now, in that, he has opinions and he has never been shy about expressing those opinions and we solicit those opinions. He is obviously free to say anything that he wants to say, but the truth of the matter is he allows us to do our job. So it doesn’t box us into any type of corner or anything like that. We just talked about how this is a quarterback league, so it is a position that - if you just look at the tape, we are influx there. We have had a bunch of guys over the last couple of years that have played the position for us and so it is a spot that we need to solidify. I don’t know if he has revealed anything that none of us knew, so it doesn’t hurt us at all.”
As a member of the Competition Committee, do you think the use of tabs on the sideline should filter down to the college level?
“I don’t have anything to do with the college level, but I will tell you that it’s helped at our level. The way of the world now, technology is just exploding. Certainly, you look on our sidelines and you see examples of how we’re using it in our game. I just think back, we used to have the Polaroid’s on the sideline. Now, we’re contemplating video. We had video on the sideline at the Pro Bowl. That’s a technology that I think you will continue to see evolve and develop. It helps. It helps. I think we’ve got to be careful as a committee to make sure that it’s not exploited. We spend a lot of time talking about abuse, misuse, unintended consequences, and trying to make sure we vet those ideas and vet the technology, so we implement it in a way where it’s helpful and not harmful.”
Do you think full videos on the sideline would be too much or are you open to the idea?
“I think we’re open to the idea. I think you need to limit how you can manipulate it. But I do believe – I think you saw some examples, even in the Pro Bowl, where having the actual video on the sideline was helpful to access what’s happening out on the field.”
Why has it been so difficult for this team to find a quarterback?
“Bill (O’Brien) talked about how difficult it is to play the position at a high level in this league on a consistent basis. It is. There’s a lot of things that are involved in it. There are not a lot of people walking the planet who can do it effectively, that’s the first thing. Timing is another thing. You’ve got to have some luck, in a sense of when guys are available and you have the ability to go and get those guys. It’s a combination of factors. At the end of the day, that’s one of the reasons why coaches are so important. Because we talk about all the various things that we look for in a position, position parameters or position specifics, whether they be physical attributes or mental attributes or what the character of the guy is, work ethic, and those kind of things. All those things that we look for. You’re never going to find a perfect guy, so you’ve got to manage and deal with him, the athletes and the options that you have. That’s why I think Bill and the staff have done a good job of doing that.”
How important is patience for a quarterback to you in this situation?
“I think that’s an attribute that’s important in any situation. It’s a difficult position to play, number one. So I think a lot of it has to do with the attitude and the capability of the individual. So you will want to push the guy as fast as you can push him in an effective manner, where you don’t inhibit his growth. But that you move him along as fast as possible.”
What are your thoughts on Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg?
“Obviously, he’s played for Bill (O’Brien) and had some success with him. Some of those physical things that we talked about, the mental things, work ethic and some of those things, he definitely has. I don’t know him very well. I’ve gone out and scouted him. I haven’t really sat down and talked with him. He’s a guy that I’m looking forward to getting to know through the process.”
Is the process of evaluating Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg different because of Head Coach Bill O’Brien’s familiarity with him?
“No because I don’t know him. So I have to spend as much time on him as I need to learn and identify or try to figure out what I think about him. It’s just like everyone else.”
Thoughts on the Broncos winning the Super Bowl with a defense-first formula?
“I’m happy for that group. John (Elway) is a real good friend of mine, obviously. I was with him last night. Just happy for Gary (Kubiak), Wade (Phillips), and all those guys on that staff. It was good to see that. Happy for that organization, the Bowlen Family were very, very good to me. So it was nice to see that happen for them.”
Do you see similarities between the Texans and Broncos roster and is that a team you model yourself after?
“I think in a lot of respects - people say this all the time, it’s a copy-cat league. So you look at the teams who have had success and I think if there are elements – I think if you don’t look at people who are doing something that yields success, and you don’t look at what they’re doing and try to identify what they’re doing and how it applies to you – now, I think you make mistakes if you try to copy other people. So to the degree that you can find something that somebody else is doing, whether it’s in player evaluation or whether it’s in contract writing or whether it’s in schemes, whatever people are doing. We look at everything that everybody is doing and if there’s something that organically fits into your system and to what you’re doing, then I think you contemplate adding it. But I don’t think you look at any one blueprint or one team and try to model anything after it because I think you better stand for something or you fall for anything.”
Will RB Arian Foster be on the Texans next season?
“Boy, that’s a direct question. You know, I met with Arian a couple weeks ago. He’s doing well. He was very, very motivated. I thought one of the things that I was so disappointed for him from last year was he worked – he probably had his best offseason last year. To see the injuries occur last year was disappointing primarily because I knew how hard he had worked. He’s right back at that. He’s got the right mindset. He came in and talked to me a couple weeks ago to make sure that we knew that. I believe him. I believe he’ll bounce back and be fine.”
Will the Texans be able to keep RB Arian Foster under his current contract?
“I just sung Chris Olsen’s praises about how he is managing our salary cap. I think we’re in a position that I don’t know that any player is prohibited. We try to write our contracts in such a way that when we get to the end of contracts, we don’t necessarily have to move players. That’s one of the things that we’ve been doing over the last few years to position ourselves salary cap-wise to be in a place where moving forward we can always have flexibility. Part of that is the way that we are writing contracts.”
Are you guys discussing a pay cut with RB Arian Foster?
“As it relates to all the free agent conversations, I’m never really going to tell you one way or the other what we’re doing. I’ll tell you this, his salary is not a reason why we will cut him.”
How does OLB Jadeveon Clowney approach this offseason after being inconsistent through his first two seasons?
“I don’t know if he’s been inconsistent on the field. When he’s been on the field, he’s been pretty disruptive and pretty impactful. It’s just he has suffered some injuries. What you would hope is that, on the continuum of injuries, I think he’s already had as many as he needs to have. So just from the standpoint of luck, hopefully the guy has had his share of injures and that he will have an opportunity to play and play for an extended amount of time. Because I think what you see when you see him on the field, you see productive play. He’s got to work at that. Some of those injuries, it’s not like he’s getting hurt because he’s not working. The nature of the injuries that he’s had are not such that it’s an indicator that the guy’s not been conditioned or ready to play. It’s just the nature of the game, so hopefully he’s had his share. He’ll go help us and play a little bit more consistently.”
Is it more important to have a pocket passer than a quarterback who can run?
“I don’t know that I think it’s any different. In my opinion, you have to be able to throw the football from the pocket in this league. The ability to move and be mobile is an added dimension that really stresses the defense. So, I think what you see now is you probably see more pocket-passers with mobility. Maybe that’s what the nature of your question is, you do see some guys that have that dual threat, whereas before the dual-threat guy, you just assumed he couldn’t throw the ball from the pocket. Now, you have more quarterbacks who can do both and who are really effective at both. That’s the evolution of the position.”
HEAD COACH BILL O'BRIEN
Talk about this crop of quarterbacks.
“Sure, you know I’ll be honest with you, I’m not all the way through watching all of these guys, but there seems to be obviously a good list of guys, guys that have had successful college careers, guys that have won a lot of games, played in different systems, so I’m enjoying watching these guys and I think we have a long way to go. It’s a long process. I say this every year, it’s a process that lasts a long time and there’s different stages to the process. Obviously, you have the Senior Bowl, then the combine here, so it takes a while to really gather all the information and make decisions, but there seems to be a good list of guys here.”
What do you think about Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg and why do you think he was successful as a true freshman playing under you?
“I don’t know. I’ll tell you, first of all, he’s a great kid, comes from a great family. We enjoyed recruiting him. I’ve known him since he was 17 years old when he was at Fork Union. I’ve known him for a long time, know his parents, his brothers. He’s a humble kid. He’s talented, smart, good guy to be around and I enjoyed coaching him his first year at Penn State.”
Since you’ve already coached Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, do you evaluate him differently?
“I think so, I mean I know him. I’ve been around him a long time and some of these other guys I don’t know, so naturally I know him a little bit better. It doesn’t mean I evaluate him any differently, it just means that I just, I’ve been around him a little more.”
Could Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg be evaluated as a first round draft pick?
“You know look, I think again I’m not up here to really talk about rounds. I think it’s more about, what is the type of player at any position that fits your team. What is your team looking for at quarterback, at defensive end, at nose guard, at running back, whatever the position is and then based on that then you determine, along with Rick Smith, where we’re going to draft guys. I don’t get up here and talk about rounds and things like that. I don’t think that’s what it’s all about. I think it’s more about what fits your team.”
Do you think Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg has starter ability in the NFL?
“You know, look, again I’m just starting in on these guys. I think that Christian’s a very talented guy, but there’s a lot of talented quarterbacks in this league. To stand up here and answer whether a guy has starting ability, I mean it is very, very difficult to start at quarterback in this league. I mean it’s a very difficult league to be a starting quarterback in, and so I think it’s more about evaluating the talent, looking at the skill set, thinking about what your team needs, what type of offense your team runs, who fits it the best and you kind of go from there.”
What are some characteristics you’re looking for from a quarterback?
“I think one of the things about playing quarterback is you have to be a great teammate and you have to be able to communicate with everybody on the team, with your coaching staff, with everybody in the building, your general manager, your scouts. When you’re a quarterback in the NFL, obviously, you’re the face of the franchise in many ways. So, you have to be a really bright guy, a hard worker, a good teammate, a communicator, a guy that can talk to teammates from all kinds of different backgrounds and try to bring guys together. Most importantly, you have to go out on the practice field and earn the respect of your teammates and then go out and win games which ultimately earns the respect of your teammates and your team. I think there’s a lot that goes into that position, that’s why it takes a long time to evaluate it.”
What skills does Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg have that you like?
“Christian can throw the football. He’s got a strong arm, he’s a big guy, he’s smart, he was able to learn quickly when we had him at Penn State, and I’ll be honest with you, I’ve talked to a few other guys at that position, not to get into all the lists of guys that I’ve spoken to, that are smart, that have good arms, that seem to be quick learners and things like that, so again, it’s a long process and it’s going to take a long time to figure out at every position what’s the best fit for your team.”
What are some of the biggest things you’re looking for from a quarterback?
“I think again, I’m not going to get up here and give you a list. There are so many different things that go into really every position. If you looked at our position descriptions that our scouting staff and our coaching staff have put together, I mean you could take any position and I could stand up here all day and tell you the attributes of a corner, a defensive tackle, a quarterback. I mean it’s just - it’s a list that goes on forever and ever. It’s hard to find somebody that has all those qualities. You’re trying to find the guys that best fit most of those qualities. Look, when you’re talking about quarterback, obviously, I just mentioned a lot of the things that go into it, you’ve got to be able to throw the ball accurately, you have to be a good decision maker, you’ve got to be a great teammate, you’ve got to be a hard worker, you’ve got to be smart, so there’s a lot that goes into playing that position and I just mentioned a few right there.”
Your owner has made comments that the team should be looking for a quarterback, does that make it difficult for you in negotiating during the draft?
“I always go by the mantra of whatever the owner says, we basically do whatever the owner tells us to do. Mr. (Bob) McNair, look he’s a great owner. He wants a winner in Houston, he’s expressed that to me in various ways, not just at that position but in a lot of different ways, how we can build this team both Rick (Smith) and I and that’s what we’re trying to do. To me, whatever Mr. McNair says, we try to go by that.”
What’s your evaluation of Texans WR Jaelen Strong after his rookie year?
“He’s an interesting story to me. He came into rookie minicamp right after the draft, after having really just basically trained for the combine and all the things that go into the draft process, and he was a little bit out of shape, little bit over weight. You know we mentioned it to him a few times, and he really took it upon himself to get in better condition, to lose weight, to learn our offense and by the end of the year he was playing pretty well for us and we believe that he has a really good future for us.”
Talk about playing in Mexico City next season and the challenges and exposure it presents.
“Yeah I’m excited about that. When I was in New England, we played in London and I thought that was a great experience for that team and I think it’ll be a similar experience going to Mexico City to play Oakland. We’re playing a great team with a great coaching staff led by Jack Del Rio and a tough team, so the whole deal there is about playing Oakland and not necessarily being in Mexico City to go for tours and things like that. I think that’s the big goal there is to try to go down there and win the game, but I think it’s a great opportunity for our organization to be on Monday Night Football in Mexico City.”
How difficult is it trying to develop young quarterbacks?
“I think when you’re getting a quarterback, especially a young quarterback which is I think what you’re asking, they come from different college systems and when they come to the pros, it’s just a totally different ball game. You’re talking about defenses that are very multiple, do a lot of different things, personnel oriented, some of these guys - we talk to them initially and they don’t even know the different between nickel and base defense. You’re starting from scratch. I think you have to be careful about throwing the kitchen sink at these guys and then just throwing them to the wolves. I think when a guy goes out there and has a bad experience as a young quarterback and doesn’t win right away or fails, it’s not very good. I think you have to be careful about what type of team you’re building around them and be very thoughtful about that, and then when you believe that the guy is ready to play, if that’s what you’re going to do, go with a young quarterback, then you put the guy in there and try to control the game and help him make good decisions. Hopefully he comes along quickly. I think it’s difficult, it’s not an easy process to play quarterback for this league. It takes a long time to develop.”
Can you talk about Texans QB Tom Savage?
“Tom is a very hardworking guy, a smart guy, good communicator, and a good teammate. His work ethic is respected by the guys in our locker room. We are going to give him reps this spring. I know he is out in Arizona right now working hard. I think he is out there with a couple of teammates. He came back in great shape last year and I think the whole deal with those guys is if they get the opportunity they have to take advantage of the opportunity and see what happens. He is a hard working kid and we are glad he is on our team.”
How difficult is it to convert a true spread quarterback to a pro style?
“That is a great question. I think that is what I was alluding to. Some of these guys, you watch a lot of quarterbacks and I always tell the rookies this is not your fault, this is not your fault, but you are always in the shotgun. You never take a snap from under center. In the National Football League, you are going to have to take a snap from under center. You’re talking about teaching a 21, 22-year-old guy how to take a quarterback snap from the center, quarterback-center exchange. That’s like an elementary skill in the NFL, but some of these guys have never done it. If you just look at that as an example, it does take a while and you have to give the guy time and you have to make sure that you bring him along at his own pace. He has to put a lot of work into it, he has to be willing to put a lot of extra work into it to get ready to play and it takes a long time.”
How much is your current offensive scheme similar to the one you ran at Penn State with QB Christian Hackenberg?
“You are talking about, you know when you are in college there is the 20-hour rule, which believe me when I was at Penn State, we had to follow the rules to the letter of the law. You are talking about getting these guys at 2:30 in the afternoon and you maybe meet with them with 45 minutes and then you are out on the practice field and then they are done with practice and they have to go eat and go to study hall. You don’t get nearly as much time as you do in the NFL, so we ran the basics of kind of what we do in Houston, but not nearly the amount of scheme that we ran the last couple years in Houston, if that makes sense.”
Did you communicate with Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg last season?
“Not really. Maybe a text after they won a game or something like that, a congratulations, things like that. But no, not really.”
Do you plan to have RB Arian Foster back next year?
“Everybody that was on the 2015 team – everybody - is being evaluated and discussed, so as far as being in the plans, sure everybody is in the plans.”
Do you ever think the NFL game will evolve to the tendencies of the college game, especially on offense?
“That is a great question. I would say that when you look at these offenses, I do think that there is a certain amount that you are going to have to adapt to your offense depending on the type of player that you take. I’ll just give you an example, there’s a lot of players in this draft that do a lot of different things. They play running back, they play quarterback, they play receiver, they return punts, they play corner. They run speed sweeps, they run reverses, and they throw halfback passes. I think when you look at college football - there are a lot of interesting trends in college football, that when these guys get to your level and you don’t have a ton of time to work with them, you have the nine week offseason program and then training camp and then you have to go play the season, I think you are going to have to incorporate some of the skill set of what they did in college to what you are doing in the pros. I think as it goes forward you are going to see more and more of that.”
Do you expect Texans DE J.J. Watt to be able to do a lot this spring?
“I think we are a long way away from that. I think he is working very, very hard, like everybody would know that about him. I mean, he is not going to be denied being ready to play next year. But as far as OTA’s go and things like that, we haven’t even discussed that yet. I think we are a long ways away from deciding whether he will be in OTA’s and all those different things.”
What type of players are you looking at to improve your offensive line?
“The thing about the offensive line that is important for us is we need guys that are tough, smart, good communicators, athletic guys, guys that can pull, guys that can run block and pass protect, they aren’t just one-dimensional players. Versatile players, guys that can play guard and tackle, guard and center, tackle and tight end. It is hard to find those guys and that is one of the things we are trying to do in this process.”